BORIS Johnson’s departure on holiday on Saturday, despite public warnings the Taliban would be in Kabul within hours, has been criticised as a “dereliction of duty” by former senior military and security figures.

It emerged today that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab took their summer holidays at the same time before both taking the decision to return.

Johnson had gone to Somerset, and Raab was in Cyprus until Sunday, hours before the fall of Kabul, after being absent from public debate for more than a week.

Major Gen Charlie Herbert, who undertook three tours of duty in Afghanistan between 2007-18, said: “It is almost impossible to believe that the Prime Minister departed on holiday on Saturday; he should hang his head in shame. It is dereliction of duty on an extraordinary scale.

“He is overseeing one of the greatest military humiliations in the recent history of this country. Three weeks ago Gen Lord Dannatt and 44 other senior retired military offices wrote openly to the government to express their grave concern about the handling of the interpreter issue and urged the government to accelerate the relocations.

“That they failed to heed the warning is symptomatic of the disastrous complacency that has led to this national humiliation. Interpreters will die as a result of their apathy.”

Lord Ricketts, the former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), told the Guardian that Johnson’s holiday decision was “one more piece of evidence that Whitehall as a whole failed to anticipate either the scale or the speed of the collapse of the Afghan regime and the implications for British interest”.

Admiral Lord West, the former first sea lord and chief of the naval staff, said: “I would be extremely surprised and indeed appalled if the JIC and assessments staffs were not predicting a very rapid collapse of the Afghan regime in the face of Taliban pressure by Saturday.

“In view of that I find the Prime Minister’s decision to go on holiday surprising. I also find the Foreign Secretary’s absence baffling. Holidays are important but not crucial. World events have a remarkable habit of happening in August and the government needs to be capable of responding quickly.”

Johnson returned from Somerset and chaired his second Cobra meeting on Afghanistan in three days on Sunday afternoon, as well as speaking to Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, about the Taliban takeover.

No 10 said he would remain working in Downing Street until at least Wednesday, when parliament will be recalled.

“The Prime Minister has returned to Downing Street today,” his spokesperson said. “He has been monitoring the situation in Afghanistan throughout.” 

Johnson’s spokesperson said the Taliban “have moved swiftly across the country, but we’ve monitored the situation throughout and have been focused on getting out those Afghan nationals who’ve been working with the British and obviously the British nationals themselves”.

A further 200 UK troops are to be sent to Kabul to evacuate British citizens and local allies from Afghanistan as Raab said he would not rule out sanctions if the Taliban did not honour its commitments over human rights.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed to the PA news agency that more armed services personnel would be sent to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of Kabul.

It comes as Johnson, in a phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron, outlined his intention to host a virtual meeting of G7 leaders on Afghanistan in the coming days to co-ordinate and international response.

There have been chaotic scenes at Kabul airport amid a desperate struggle to get UK nationals and selected Afghans out of the country.
The decision to fly in more armed forces personnel brings the total number of troops sent to the capital to urgently deal with the crisis to about 800.

Following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this afternoon, Raab told broadcasters: "As I said, we'll use every means at our disposal.

"We need to work with our partners, we need to broaden the caucus of countries that are willing to exercise positive influence, to rein in the worst excesses we saw in the past of the Taliban, and we need to consolidate and try and stabilise the gains - which are considerable - that we've made with so much blood, sweat, tears and loss of life, over 20 years, and that's what we're committed to doing."

British troops are racing against the clock to get people out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the western-backed government amid a rapid advance across the country by the Taliban.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, appeared to choke up as he spoke of his regret that "some people won't get back" during morning interviews.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said there had been a “catastrophic miscalculation” over the strength of the Taliban and the resilience of Afghan forces. 

Starmer said Raab should have returned sooner from his holiday, and described the speed of the government’s response to the situation in Afghanistan as slow.